Thursday, February 02, 2006

 

Expect More of This

You know there is a deficit of good governance and sound leadership in the Middle East when the world reports with despair that the Fatah Movement was defeated in open, free and fair elections in the Palestinian territories. Don’t get me wrong, I am not pleased with the election of Hamas to a position of real authority within the Palestinian government, but Hamas is who the Palestinian people chose to represent them, so at the very minimum, the United States and the rest of the western world has to take a step back and appreciate that point before any course of action is pursued.

If the European Union and the United States overplay their respective hands in this situation they put the development of democratic governance at risk in the Middle East. The elections were free, fair and conducted with little reported irregularities (something that can’t be said for the much heralded elections in Iraq and Afghanistan). If the Western world turns its back and scorns the popularly elected representative government of Palestine simply because it does not like the ideologies that government represents, what does that say about the level of respect the Western world has for the Palestinian electorate?

Ironically, if the West successfully isolates the new Palestinian government, it will play right into the hands of the despotic leaders of the regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Through their remarkably effective propaganda machines these governments will continue to poison their population’s minds with notions the West (especially the United States) only supports democracy in the Middle East if pro-Western, pro-Israeli, secular governments are elected. This thought process does not do the United States and its policy of spreading democracy throughout the parts of the world with a good government deficit any favors.

Do I like Hamas, of course not? They are responsible for supplying a majority of the firepower and suicide bombers during this latest intifada against Israel. But the elections that brought Hamas to power were arguably not about battling the Israelis; they were about removing a political establishment that for decades has squandered every opportunity to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. In addition to the suicide bombers and the dangerous rhetoric, Hamas also supplies schools, hospitals, and other social programs aimed at improving the quality of life for the Palestinian people. Fatah for decades has led the Palestinians nowhere due to their inability to govern and their culture of corruption.

Does Hamas need to dramatically change its policies towards terrorism and Israel, of course they do? But now is the time for both tact and pressure. Palestine just conducted free and fair elections that clearly demonstrate just how much of a sham the elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia really were. However, Hamas has to understand, that now is the time to perform, now is the time to show the world and the Palestinian people that their party has the vision, the will, and the technical ability to improve the quality of life for the Palestinian people. They also have to accept the fact that they are now in the “big leagues” and when you are operating at this level, you are going to have to perform and play within the acceptable rules and norms of statecraft is you are going to earn the respect of the world.

Finally, lets be clear, after several generations of despotic rule, the only parties and opposition groups with any real credibility and clout in the Middle East are the Islamic parties. There is going to be more elections like this in the near term and the Western world is just going to have to get use to it. But as long as those elections aren’t a one man, one vote, one time situation, I think it’s a development the free world can and needs to live with. ama

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